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Two years after taking over a rundown newsagents in the East Lothian town of Musselburgh, Ferhan Ashiq opened his innovative food to go-focused convenience store. He takes Tom Gockelen-Kozlowski through the project
I didn’t want to open a convenience store that did food to go, I wanted to create a food service operation that also did convenience.”
This initial idea has underpinned retailer Ferhan Ashiq’s dramatic recreation of a local shop in the East Lothian town of Musselburgh, on the outskirts of Edinburgh.
The business, a post office and newsagent, hadn’t been updated for decades when Ferhan bought it in 2014 and finding an electrician who was simply happy to work with the aging wiring was a difficult task.
It meant that the store was available at “a good price” for a site that lies on a busy road that takes a quarter of East Lothian’s cross-county traffic. It also made the job of getting the store fit for purpose an immense one: Ferhan closed the door for two years and raised the money for a £110,000 refit.
“It was a complete refurbishment – we knocked down the walls of the larger stock room to take our shopfloor up from 430sq ft to 550sq ft. We put in new energy-efficient chillers with glass doors, a cigarette vending machine and brand new counter top with a really good finishing,” he says.
I didn’t want to open a convenience store that did food to go, I wanted to create a food service operation that also did convenience
Ferhan and his family have operated convenience stores in the area for 29 years, and now uses the original store to hold stock that can’t be kept at the new site.
His strong ties to the area also helped him to devise the store’s unique offer and the strategy for making it happen.
“The business operated on an owner-occupier basis before but I needed this business to be staff-run as we already have a store,” he says. Serving a small but affluent community, with a large amount of passing traffic as well as a local school, he also quickly decided that food to go would be the right focus for the business.
This includes a coffee machine, which provides 70% margins, a hot food cabinet filled with pies and sausage rolls from a local butcher, and a range of freshly-made rolls, made in-store by staff. Yet it’s his innovative chip vending machine that’s proved the biggest hit, developing a loyal following among children from the local school.
“I was walking around the food to go section of the retail trade show in 2014, just after buying the business, and saw the oil-free Frymac machine in action. Customers get hot freshly-cooked chips within two minutes of requesting them and I decided it would be perfect for my store,” Ferhan says.
Having bought the machine outright, Ferhan can produce a £1.50 portion of chips for 35p, delivering an almost 80% margin.
With his USP in place, Ferhan’s next challenge was how to present his new business. Over nearly three decades in business, he and his family have developed strong ties with United Wholesale, using the company’s Day-Today fascia. The company helped out building the core range of key category products for the new store – its size means there is little room for more than core products.
Yet, Ferhan wanted to make a different impression with this business and employed a store fitter he had met at the NFRN’s Scottish Conference two years ago to create a wholly-new image: Levenhall Village Stores was born.
For all the success, Ferhan’s journey hasn’t been without the occasional misstep.
“When we opened, because it’s an affluent area, we decided to premium price products and avoid pricemarking,” he says. It quickly became clear that keen prices were needed to boost footfall, however, and Ferhan now beats a nearby Nisa store so significantly on tobacco prices that a sizeable chunk of the store’s customers now come to him.
And, as the store approaches its half-year anniversary, Ferhan feels confident that his food to go-heavy model is what his customers want.
“It takes six months, I think, for someone to become used to shopping with you, then they’re a loyal customer – that’s what we’ve got now.”
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